From the strategic big picture to the nuts and bolts, Julie’s creative thinking, understanding of the industry and friendly calm approach has been a welcome addition to thousands of shows. I caught up with her to talk about her experience and advice.
Tell me about yourself including where you currently work today and what your past experience as a sound engineer has been. What have been some of the highlights in your career?
I have worked in the music industry primarily as a sound engineer, but also in many other capacities (producing, booking, consultant, venue management…) including owning my own business for about 27 years. I have been currently taking time off to pursue other interests and am only working occasional gigs.
As a sound engineer, I have worked festivals to venues to all kinds of gigs in between and in many genres of music. I was the Chief Sound Engineer and Production Manager for Kuumbwa Jazz Center for 17 years where I became very enmeshed in jazz.
I think for me the highlights are just the extensive work I have done with many of the greatest and most creative musicians in the world.
How has being a woman affected the opportunities you have had in the field of sound engineering?
Sound Engineering along with the entire music industry has traditionally been a very predominantly male field (as I’m sure you and your readers are aware). I have definitely had to be quite a bit better to have had the opportunities that I have had and I have still lost out quite a bit due to being a woman. I have had to prove myself at every gig as a seriously talented engineer to immediately gain the confidence of the musicians I have worked with. I have lost jobs to men quite a bit less qualified or skilled as myself many times.
What levels of education are required to work in the field?
I don’t think that one needs an education to work as a sound person, although there are more and more programs around the country that are now training people for the field. When I started, many people, including myself began through radio work. I had been a radio news and documentary producer before going into sound engineering full time. I think that it is more about proving yourself as capable and who you know that gets you into the field.
What inspired you to become a sound engineer?
I actually never intended to become a sound engineer. I fell into it as a fluke. I was at a women’s music festival and one of the sound people didn’t show up, I said that I could probably figure it out and was put to work. I managed to do a good job and then started getting calls for jobs until it then became what I was doing full time. After I had created a career, I formally studied it to improve my knowledge.
Who were your mentors coming up as an engineer?
I didn’t have any. I truly taught myself and never had any encouragement from men in the field. I didn’t know any women early on and later as I became more well known, I could count the professional women sound people I knew on one hand. It is nice to see more women in the field.
Do you have to be a people person in this field?
I think that it helps as it does in most fields. People like working with people they enjoy being with – this many times trumps skill. As a people person I think that you can influence a performance by ‘setting the stage’ for performers to feel good and do their best. To be a well rounded sound person, in my view, requires 1/3 technical savvy, 1/3 people skills and 1/3 creative.
What advice would you give to a woman who wants to pursue a career in sound engineering?
In order to give the best advice, I would first ask her questions, such as:
- Do you know exactly what you want to do, i.e. live, studio, film?
- What do you know about the field and what experience do you already have?
- Are you willing to travel or relocate?
- What are your passions?
- Do you know anyone who is doing what you want to do?
My advice would come from dialogue and understanding of who she is and where she is at.
I would never want to discourage someone from following their dreams but I also know that the sound field is limited, doesn’t necessarily offer financial or job security and is not as in demand as many other professions. That said, it is possible.
Do you think that there is a need for more sound women?
I think there is a need for more women in all professions, except for the traditionally female ones. It is the direction our planet needs at this time in history.
It has been reported that only 5% of sound engineers are women. Have you struggled or feel that difficult barrier at all in your career? Why do you think this number is so especially low?
Yes, I have felt barriers, but I have also broken through some of those barriers by working to be extremely good at what I do. I think the barriers are ever so slightly less now than historically. Although there has been progress, it is slow. It is embedded in society, education and the core fabric of patriarchy that women still grow up systematically excluded from many professions and opportunities in life. When we do break the barriers, we are oftentimes expected to do more for less. Sound is an excellent example of this but it permeates most fields. It is life and reminds me of the Charlotte Whitton quote “Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.”